Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice collaborated on a rock opera concept album in 1970. Then it was staged in the West End of London, and, later, Broadway in New York. The story was intended to stimulate discussion and get ‘bums on seats’. It did both.
Then Norman Jewison decided to adapt it to the silver screen. And that is when this rock opera came into its own.
Jesus Christ Superstar seemed to some to play fast and loose with the Christian history of the life of Jesus, but the Dead Sea Scrolls got there first, and Lloyd Webber and Rice were only following the Gnostic thread that had been ‘understood’ after Jesus died on the cross.
Here are a few things that the film got right.
Jesus was Short
Up until 1973, peoples’ received wisdom was that Jesus was the ‘perfect’ human being. But that may have been just wishful thinking. Jesus’ comments about imperfections seem to be self-directed. And he also seemed to be empathetic with women’s role in society. Not your usual macho man, then.
Mary Magdalene was Special
For some reason, the public have always presumed that the disciples were only male. If there were any women hanging around, they were ancillary only (cooking and caring for the disciples’ well-being). It is now understood that Mary was the “Apostle to the Apostles” which means that she studied Jesus’ words and grasped their meaning before the rest.
Not of this World
The idea that there was a Kingdom of Heaven as separate, but within Israel, would have been too much for the Jewish leaders of their day. When questioned by Pilate, Jesus explains that he is not of this world, which made no sense to Pilate. That comes across clearly in the film.
Simon Zealotes was a Zealot
This means that Simon was part of a group that wanted to overthrow the Romans. He thought, for sure, that Jesus was the long-awaited ‘anointed one’ who would lead them in battle. Unfortunately for him, Jesus’ mission was much more subtle than that.
Judas Iscariot loved Jesus
So many individuals over the years have tried to rehabilitate Judas’ reputation, including Taylor Caldwell with her book, I Judas. I feel that this story is the only one to get the truth of his devotion to Jesus across to a wide audience.
Herod Antipas was a Fool
When Jesus was sent to Herod (because he was from Galilee), Herod wanted Jesus to perform a miracle or two (“turn my water into wine”) and when Jesus didn’t, Herod and his courtiers mocked him. The circus-like atmosphere would have seemed too silly for the Jews.
Israel was a War Zone
Jewison (interesting name, eh?) shows how volatile Israel was during those years by using tanks instead of chariots. Romans were the invaders, usurpers of Jewish sovereignty. During the late 60’s and early 70’s, Israel was still trying to protect itself from outsiders by being on constant wartime alert. (They still are…)
The Final Scene
The best way good Jewish boys could finish the story was not to have Jesus resurrect from the dead. That’s why the ending is left so ambiguously vague. Their job was not to sell the afterlife of Jesus, but to focus on the seeming waste of a good life (from their perspective). Jewison let a little light through by having a shepherd and his flock cross the hillside beneath the empty cross during the closing credits.